It is, mercifully, a slow news day (I mean, how many stories in how many different newspapers, all much of a muchness really, can we read, about the Aus-England game?) -- so that gives me time to ignite a little debate on here, on the question of India's captaincy.
If I were sitting down to pick a captain, I'd scribble some think-points for myself, first. Broadly, these:
1. I have a new team management in place -- hence, a certain 'holding period' is desirable while the new coach, and his support staff, gain a degree of familiarity with the members of the team.
2. I do not, as on date, have to pick a captain for both forms -- India kicks off its season with a one-day series in Sri Lanka in August. Hence, I only need to pick a one-day captain for now. This gives the team management a buffer of time in which to observe form, and such intangibles as team spirit, dressing room atmosphere, leadership qualities and such.
Given this, I would only announce at this point the captain to lead India in Sri Lanka
, with the captain for the tour of Zimbabwe to be announced August 15.
Before picking my captain for the August start of the season, I would spend some time thinking about who I would want leading India in, let's say, 2008.
It is eminently possible that one of the younger players -- Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, maybe even Dinesh Mongia, who knows -- could in the interim put his hand up with some spectacular, and consistent, performances. But for now, given the existing personnel and their potential, I find it hard to look beyond Virender Sehwag for the long term role.
There is a body of thought that he is an instinctive player, that he does not think about the game -- both at an individual level, and in the collective. But in Sehwag today, you see what was obvious about Saurav Ganguly in the late 90s and around 2000: a very visible, very high-energy involvement in the field (keep an eye on the guy the next time India plays -- he is invariably a part of on-field discussions, often he is the one who initiates them, at times you see him off his own initiative adjusting field positions...), and an equally apparent hunger for the top job.
For all of these reasons, I'd earmark him for the future captaincy (obviously, continued form permitting). And I'd make clear to him now that this is his apprenticeship period -- an opportunity, as Ricky Ponting had under Steve Waugh, to grow into the job, to perfect his own style of leadership so that when the mantle came to him, he would be ready in all particulars.
Which then leaves the question of today's leader. I would, personally, leave the captain's armband with Saurav, for several reasons:
1. Lack of a valid reason for change: During the Indo-Pak Test series, I had the distinct impression that Saurav's lack of confidence in his own batting was translating into a certain defensiveness in the field.
Saurav acolytes will probably argue this with some heat, but I believe a team playing under a more confident Ganguly would have won the Mohali game, and likely the Bangalore game as well -- or at the very least, ended the tour with a 2-0 result.
When it came to the one-dayers, though, it was a different story -- the run of four defeats at the hands of Pakistan did not owe, as obviously, to the captaincy (keep in mind, too, that Saurav did not lead in all of them).
Key components malfunctioned, all at the same time -- the openers did not get off to the sort of starts the team is used to; the middle order was brittle; fielders went off the boil and, crucially, the bowling was, for the most part, lacking in aggression and imagination.
Changing the captain was not going to solve any of those ills -- in fact, we did change the captain, with Dravid leading once Ganguly was banned, but that change at the top did not bring any visible change to the way the team played.
2. The oft-cited TINA (there is no alternative) factor: Rahul Dravid seems the logical candidate -- but while I would be tempted to consider him for Tests, I am not too keen on his credentials as a one-day skipper. Rahul is just that touch too bookish, too much a creature of order and method and too little reliant on flair and instinct, to suit the short-form game. And outside of Rahul, there is no logical challenger for the job -- it is too early for Sehwag and probably too late for Anil Kumble.
3. Continuity: Off the field, the team in these coming weeks will have enough on its hands adjusting to a new coach, a new support staff, new methods; the last thing it probably needs is to have to adjust to a new captain and new on-field thinking as well.
The one question mark that remains is form. Had I been picking a captain in the immediate aftermath of the Pakistan series, it would have loomed large. That is the thing with the off season, though -- everyone starts afresh. There is some evidence that Saurav is getting to spend more time in the middle, on the English county circuit, and regaining a measure of his touch -- so the question of form, especially in the short-form version of the game, doesn't worry me too much just now.
Besides these key reasons, there are a couple of others. Firstly, Sachin Tendulkar will not be playing for India for at least four months -- and that leaves an immediate vacuum at the top. Conventional wisdom will probably indicate Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the likely pick -- a Dhoni-Sehwag pairing could in fact be devastating if it clicks, and Dhoni could gain immensely from the experience Sehwag brings at the other end.
The trouble, though, is Dhoni hasn't had time to try his hand at the job; if he fails, there is absolutely no backup. In Saurav, you have a player who has a very good record at the top of the order, which covers that base. Further, if you have Sehwag-Dhoni opening and the pairing clicks, then the only other base to cover is the middle order, where Yuvraj and Kaif appear to have gone off the boil a touch. The idea of an in-form Ganguly coming in to bat in the middle overs, to a softer ball and with spin predominating, is immensely attractive -- he can afford to take a little time to settle in; the ball is not likely to be seaming around quite as much nor will there be close catchers to take advantage of the odd edge, and once he is set, there are not too many players around who can explode the way he can.
There is one other reason -- and this goes back to what I said earlier, about a new management needing transition time, to seed its ideas. Ganguly has worked with Chappell before, the two share an obvious respect and rapport -- the coach will probably find it easier to get the team thinking his way, if he already has a champion in his captain.
Given all this, I'd pick Saurav to lead India to Sri Lanka. I would use that tour to assess his form, his on-field confidence, the synergy with his coach and back-up team, and all related matters. And on August 15 -- by when I have enough empirical evidence to go on -- I would announce India's captain for both Tests and one-dayers, for duration of the season.
Right, that's the promised take on the captaincy -- now to hear what you guys think. Have a busy day ahead, meanwhile, so not likely to come back in here the rest of the day.
Cheerio, all, see you tomorrow.